It was well after midnight by the time I staggered back from downtown Spearfish. I had a hard time locating my campsite. That’s because I was looking for the wrong thing. Instead of seeking a large site with a single tent, I should have been looking for a tent city surrounded by Hogs and an ugly yellow school bus.
The renegades had found me.
It was after 2 am and they were all asleep. I crawled into my sleeping bag shaking my head. Guess I was stuck with these guys.
The next morning, I was wakened by someone shaking my tent. Chip announced, “Breakfast is ready.” Boy, was I ready for that. On opening the zipper, he was sitting at the picnic table smoking a fat joint. He held it out to me as if I could reach it: “Breakfast!”
It was windy. As the summer sun warms the prairies, the heated air rises and drags in cooler air from the west. The mature oak trees surrounding us rustled under the strain. Candy was almost blown over from a blast as she walked towards us.
Suddenly, there was a thunderous, earthshaking crash. Candy screamed. Others screamed. I thought a plane had been blown into the ground. We looked to the source of the racket. A giant branch had split off from one of the trees and crashed with the bottom end still attached at the base. The rest of it was laying across a row of Harleys parked near the road. It was hard to see the damage as everything was covered in a mountain of leaves the size of a semi-trailer. Startled people were crawling out of their tents around the periphery. They told us no tents were trapped underneath. Some riders immediately started digging through the fallen forest to see if they still had a means of transport. Others threw their arms up in despair and headed to town for breakfast.
No one seemed hurt, but that didn’t comfort the owners of the crushed bikes. There was a lot of swearing and lamenting. A few minutes later, an ambulance blared into the park. After an hour assessing the scene, it left without taking anyone to the hospital. Shortly afterwards, a city crew arrived and started cutting away the branches under the supervision of the bikers. They were especially empathetic and did their best to free the bikes without further damage.
Then, as if he could smell the business, a lawyer rode in on an overdressed bagger. His name was Russ Brown. He parked in the middle of the action and started taking photos. The city crew asked him to move his bike out of the way. Instead, he handed them his business card. Then he walked over to everyone standing around and did likewise. He assured the victims not to worry, that he’d take care of everything. I learned months later that he’d succeeded in getting them (and himself) well-compensated.
When I got back to my campsite, the renegades were happy to see me and thanked me for letting them share my campsite (I didn’t recall being asked). We all strolled to the town’s main street for breakfast. Candy grabbed my hand; perhaps that was her way of thanking me. Chip was right next to her so I felt safe.
We commandeered the whole balcony of a corner restaurant, watched the endless parade of roaring bikes roll by, and shared stories. They enjoyed hearing about my experiences with the Boy Scout troop at Devils Tower.
Gimp hobbled in shortly afterwards and sat across from me. He was the driver of the ugly school bus, and Tina was his devoted girlfriend. The first thing she said was, “Nothing better after a natural catastrophe than a country breakfast.” Everyone laughed.
We got to talking and I asked Gimp about the damage to his leg. He told me a story about a drunk driver who had turned left in front of him. He spared me most of the ugly details, except for the extraordinary lengths the surgeons employed to save his leg. When he finished his harrowing story, I commented, “I’m sorry you’re the victim of such a mindless…”
“I’m not a victim,” he interrupted. “Victims are angry people who blame others for their problems. I’m not one of those. I knew the risks before I chose to ride. It just so happened that my number came up. I could just as easily have been laid low by a mishap in some other sport, or in some other type of vehicle, or from a fall in the bathtub!
“I love your attitude man.”
His continued, “I refuse to assume a plantation mentality. I’ll continue to be in control of my life just as I was before, to enjoy life as much as possible.”
Tina cut in, “Gimp believes that self-pity is addictive. Once you get sucked in, it controls you. That’s the default position. Gimp has to screw up the courage and resolution to fight it every day. I really admire him for it.”
I admired Tina for her insight and commitment. She reminded me that, other than health, there is no greater resource in life than a devoted partner.
There was a stop sign at the intersection next to the restaurant. Every once in a while, a pair of riders who happened to arrive simultaneously would drag race spontaneously, with lots of noise and smoke. Everyone cheered. After a few of these incidents, one racer lost control and almost plowed into a row of parked bikes. Before he even came to a full stop, police rushed out from nowhere to surround and handcuff him. He was hauled off and his bike was impounded.
That’s good policing, I thought. Punish the excess, not the behavior.
There wasn’t a lot of drag racing in Spearfish for the rest of the day. The renegades and I strolled the main street for a couple of hours, gawking at all the bikes and talking to their owners. They all had lots to say.
The day was too hot for comfort by the time we got back to the campground. One of the renegades’ lieutenants opened the back door of the ugly school bus. The other one pulled out a ramp, and soon a Harley three-wheeler was rolled onto the grass.
“Thanks a lot guys,” Gimp said as he arrived.
“All right, let’s gear up!” Chip commanded. I had no idea where they were going, but I was ready for a nap.
One of the two lieutenants, Spider, intercepted me and urged me to gear up too. “There’s a spectacular swimming hole not far from here,” he said. “It’s a great way to cool off. You should join us.”
I hemmed and hawed. I was still suffering from the night before and it just felt too hot to fight inertia.
“Dude, Candy will be swimming au naturel.”
Inertia be dammed.
The swimming hole was north of Belle Fourche, only 45 minutes from the campground. We had to ride a half mile of yellow dirt through rolling dunes to get to the river. It was a beautiful spot in a wooded gorge, with car-sized boulders scattered about. Soon, stripped renegades were making a beeline for the cooling waters. Unlike them, Candy looked as good unwrapped as wrapped. It wasn’t long before I was next to her in the river.
Red, the guy whose bike I’d fixed on top of the Big Horn Mountains, jumped in with all his clothes.
“He bashful?” I asked.
“Nah, he’s doing his laundry.” Candy responded.
“He ought to ride his bike in,” I remarked.
Everyone who heard that broke out laughing. We were having a good time.
Spider and I floated downstream on our backs for a few hundred yards. We didn’t know where the current would take us, but it was a joy relishing the high, sandstone bluffs and tall trees overhanging the river. After a few minutes, the trees opened up to expose another swimming hole. This one had a large beach. Adjacent to it was a green lawn, picnic tables, brick restrooms, and a paved parking lot with a bus labeled Rapid City Covenant Church. The place was littered with children.
We quickly dove underwater so they wouldn’t spot us, and splashed our naked butts back to our pool in the eighth circle of hell as fast as we could. I’d never held my breath for so long.
When we got there, beer coolers and munchies were set out on blankets under a tree. Spider and I were laughing like juvenile delinquents as we related our naughty story. Everyone laughed heartily.
Spider had a lot of questions about my bike, and seemed genuinely interested in BMWs.
As the midday heat passed, it was time to head back to Spearfish. While gearing up, Spider insisted on riding my bike the half mile to the pavement, “just to see what it feels like.”
I insisted he wouldn’t.
He swore that if anything went wrong, he’d pay for it. And he’d let me ride his bike, which was a nice, late-model Low Rider.
Chip assured me that Spider was an experienced rider, and that if anything should go wrong, he was “good for it.”
“Only to the pavement!” I emphasized, “then we swap back.”
I got on his lumbering Harley and followed Chip and Candy to the pavement. When we got there, Gimp and all the other guys pulled up behind us, but Spider was nowhere to be seen. A moment or two later, we turned around and headed back to look for him.
We found my BMW laying on its side with a crushed fairing and tail section. Spider was leaned over a fallen tree trying to catch his breath.
To be continued.
Editor’s Note: we are aware that “gimp” can have a derogatory meaning and mean no insult to anyone disabled. In the story, the person with that nickname doesn’t consider it as such, and we present the story in that context.
Header image: woman on her way to Sturgis, South Dakota. Courtesy of sturgismotorcyclerally.com.